In North Beach, a neighborhood that makes dressing down an art form, bespoke fashion might sound like a nonstarter. But for Al Ribaya, custom clothing has proven to be anything but. Al’s Attire, the shop the clothier opened on the corner of Grant Avenue and Vallejo Street back in 2003, is one of the most distinctive boutiques in San Francisco, and has become a North Beach landmark.
Walk into the shop, and you’ll immediately begin to see why. The place is almost unbelievably photogenic, the merchandise on display equally so. I love good clothing, especially shoes, and stepping into Al’s shop on a sunny day typically fills me with the urge to replace everything in my closet.
The fitting process at Al’s Attire is complete, and unlike any you’ve had before. | Photo: Bonnie Lummis
Of course, one must be practical. Al’s Attire makes clothes for everyone from Carlos Santana to Arcade Fire, but admittedly, my habits are a touch more price-sensitive than theirs. So it took me a while to finally commit to my first custom item: shoes. Boots, actually.
I had given some thought to what I wanted, and settled upon a recreation of my favorite pair of boots, now beaten and all but spent. Fluevogs, black half-boots with an aggressive square toe and a lateral seam up the center of the shoe. Very cool. I love these boots, and to have them brand-new again–and made to fit my feet precisely–it sounded like a dream.
The results of the precise fitting give Al’s craftsmen the detailed dimensions they need to create the shoe mold. | Photo: Bonnie Lummis
We arranged the fitting for a Friday morning, and I showed up early, fully caffeinated and scarcely ready to stand still for the required measurements. But stand still I did, and Al put me through the whole roster of measurements, along with a questionnaire to glean my personal preferences. It was more thorough than most medical examinations.
Because it is such a unique part of the service that Al’s Attire provides, today I’ll be focusing on the footwear portion of the process. As you can see from the photos, the measurements that Renée Olivera (Al’s Leatherworker) took of my feet were no less than exhaustive. That’s because they are being used to fabricate not shoes, but hyper-accurate plastic molds of each of my feet.
“Our shoes are created from molds that replicate our client’s feet down to the smallest detail,” Ribaya explained. “That way you get a shoe that fits you properly, every time. It’s just not something you can get off the rack.”
Renée Olivera, just one of the talented craftsmen at Al’s Attire. | Photo: Joe Bonadio
Surprisingly, Al told me they could also rebuild (or reboot, to use the term literally) my old, now sadly degenerated pair; they could even bring back the original leather. Bonus! I would now have two versions of my favorite boots. “An everyday pair and a Sunday pair,” as Renée put it.
And the Sunday pair would incorporate a couple of special touches, as mentioned earlier. A huge fan of greens and olives, I had been admiring a certain Kelly green leather that Al uses in his footwear and other leather items. After knocking around the idea of using it on the toecap and the heelcap of the otherwise black boot, I decided (with Renée’s counsel) to scale back: now, only the heelcap will be green.
And these boots will be made to a higher standard than retail brands. Most importantly, they will be handwelted, meaning the uppers are sewn, not glued, to the insoles. The result: a more comfortable, more durable shoe.
I’m told I will have my new boots in 6-8 weeks, and my ‘Reboots’ even sooner. Needless to say, I can’t wait to see them. And of course, I will be back here with photos and a followup. After that, we’ll move on the next step: The Suit.
See you then!